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How to Start Paddleboard Surfing

A man SUP surfing

Once you’ve learned how to paddle past the break and enjoy your SUP in the waves, chances are good that you’ll want to try your hand at surfing. This is one of the hardest things to do on a paddleboard but also one of the most rewarding. Here’s what you need to know to get off to a great start.

Get the Right Board

If possible, rent or buy a SUP surfboard. Inflatables and boards made for other uses won’t work very well when surfing. It should be a hard-board, 8-10 feet long, and no more than 30 inches wide. Make sure it has some rock so you don’t end up burying the nose in the bottom of the waves you want to catch.

Learn the Rules

Every area where you surf will have different rules and etiquette. These customs were designed to keep people safe and give everyone fair access to the waves.

If you don’t know what the rules are where you are, try to go out with an experienced surfer the first time or watch and learn. Or you can always ask other people there if there are some. Some beaches will have rules posted, but it’s still a good idea to talk with anyone close by or out surfing.

Practice in Calm Water First

People paddling on flat water
Photo by Tatiana from Pexels

Make sure you know how to paddle on calm water well. Be sure to practice your pivot turns, where you place one foot at the very back of the board and turn quickly, because you will need these to be able to catch a wave. You should be 100% confident paddling in flat water before you try to surf.

Use a Leash

It’s easy to get separated from your board so you’ll want to stay attached to it at all times. You also don’t want your board to get away from you because it could slam into someone else cause serious injury.

Make sure your paddleboard leash is approximately the same length as your board. Use a straight leash instead of a coiled one so your board doesn’t bounce back and hit you if you fall. Place the leash around the ankle that is closest to the back of the board when you’re in your surfing stance.

Start With Gentle Waves

Choose a day when the waves are gentle. Even if you are an accomplished prone surfer, you’ll want to start with smaller waves than you think you’re going to need. This helps you get a feel for the ocean and for catching waves on a SUP without getting beat up out there.

Avoid Crowds

It helps to start SUP surfing in areas without a lot of other people. This includes people on the beach, who might get injured by your board or video your first attempts and put them on YouTube.

However, you also want relatively empty water. Avoid boats, swimmers, and even other surfers during your first attempts. This is safer for everyone and gives you the space to learn without an audience.

Scout the Area First

Make sure you know the area where you’re going to surf. Watch the waves for a while to get a sense of their patterns and rhythms.

Make sure you find out, too, if there are rocks, shoals, sandbars, and more that you’ll need to watch out for. If you’re surfing somewhere new, read reports online or ask at a local surf shop.

Choose Your Wave and Commit

The inside of a wave's curl
Photo by Emiliano Arano from Pexels

When it’s your turn to ride, choose your wave carefully. Don’t wait too long, as that’s usually considered poor etiquette.

As soon as you see the wave that you want to catch, signal that you’re going to take it (in the manner that’s standard for your location and your group), then do your best to catch it and ride it.

Catch Your Wave

Most people, especially those who have surfed before or who have seen other people surf, try to catch waves like you would on a prone surfboard: with the nose pointed toward the shore. However, that’s not the best way to do it on a SUP.

Instead, paddle parallel to the waves. When you see the one that you want to catch getting close, make a fast 90-degree turn toward the shore and take several hard strokes. That turn is where all of your pivoting practice will come in.

The faster you can turn, the better chance you have of catching the wave. You’ll move your feet while you do this, from side-by-side on the board to one in front of the other, in what is known as “surfing stance.”

If your timing is right, you’ll catch the wave after four to five strokes. You’ll feel a significant acceleration and you’ll need to lean forward.

Angle Your Board on Your Wave

Once you’re established on the wave, turn your board so it is angled on the wave. This keeps you in the pocketβ€”the area where the part of the wave that is breaking meets the part that is not.

Otherwise, you’ll slide all the way down the wave and stall when you hit the bottom. When you have your angle set, ride the wave as far as you can.

Learning to SUP surf takes a lot of practice but it’s also a ton of fun! Your practice will be worthwhile when you can ride the waves with the best of them!


What questions do you have? Leave a comment below!

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